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A Spectacular Collaboration: Roger Deakins and the Coen Brothers

in Filmmaker Videos
on Aug 3, 2014

The collaboration between the Coen Brothers and cinematographer Roger Deakins is spotlighted in this Blag Films supercut featuring moments from films such as Fargo, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Man Who Wasn’t There, True Grit, and quite a few other simply beautiful-looking films. And if these shots seem astonishingly well composed, well, then that’s due not just to Deakins’ mastery but to the Coens’ penchant for scouting, pre-production and storyboarding everything in advance. The shots in this video, with their precise time of days, frequent use of high angles and careful arrangement of what’s in the frame are clearly not worked out on the fly. Below, Deakins talks to Dustin Luke Nelson about the collaboration for InDigest magazine:

Whereas, on the other side, with Joel and Ethan [Coen], everything is very well worked out in pre-production. You go on set, you rehearse with the actor in the morning like you would on any set, but it’s kind of worked out how you’re going to shoot it well before hand. You can change that, if you have a better idea, if anybody’s got a better idea, then it can change and develop on the day. But it’s much more formal, in a way, their whole style is much more a sort of formal way of making film.

In another interview, Deakins spoke to Anne Thompson about a sequence from the Coens’ film The Man Who Wasn’t There that remains for him the essence of cinema.

Anne Thompson: You’ve done such a wide range of movies and different styles. Though you don’t look for the bravura shots, are there any particularly tricky or spectacularly beautiful shots that you’re proud of?

Roger Deakins: There are some sequences in films that I think work filmically, that stand out to me, but that’s much more to do with the staging and the cutting and the mood of the thing as a sequence, the way everything comes together. I would say a number of sequences in “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” are cinematically as good as it gets. But that was completely down to Joel and Ethan. Their concept was just so brilliant. The sequence I remember most is when Billy Bob Thornton’s character is taking his wife home after the party with the pig. He’s putting his wife to bed, they’re coming home at night and he’s telling us, the audience, in a voiceover how he met her and how they got together as a couple, which is really sad. And then the phone rings, and he picks up the phone and it’s Dave, the guy his wife Marge is having an affair with. He goes to meet Dave in his store, at night, and he gets there and murders Dave, and then he gets back in his car and drives home. He comes back in the house, sits on the bed with Marge, and then he continues the story he’s been telling of how he met Marge before he went and committed the murder. To me it’s a really brilliant piece of filmmaking. Things like that stand out but it’s not because of my role or cinematography or a particular shot; the whole mood and the sadness, it’s cinema, you can’t actually explain it because it’s pure cinema. It makes you feel and think something only cinema can do.

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